31 Days of Halloween: Day 2
"Language is a virus." -- Laurie Anderson
In this gem of a zombie movie, set almost entirely in a church basement converted into a radio station, talk radio host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) begins reporting on a series of bloody, seemingly spontaneous riots occurring within Pontypool, Ontario. The rioters, Mazzy learns, elicit zombie-like behavior brought on by language. Tension mounts as one of Mazzy's coworkers becomes infected, trapping him and his producer in the broadcast booth. There's much to love in this suspenseful tale, from the claustrophobic setting to a surprising amount of humor. (Pontypool's "Sunshine Chopper," for example, is a lone reporter cruising through town in his Dodge Dart.) Combining elements of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House and director Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, Pontypool stands as one of the most ingenious and unique entries into the ever-widening pantheon of zombie movies.
"Halloween is once again almost upon us, and once again some of us will want to prepare by tripping the dark fantastic. While I view myself as a science fiction writer and critic, I love the horror tale regardless of media, be it print or visual. In that spirit, I've decided to forego the usual top ten lists of movies that characterized my previous columns at SF Site and SF Signal, and instead focus on great terror and horror in print and media. Because I view the month of October as The Halloween Season, I will do my best, time and energy permitting, to focus on genre media I deem exemplary. For my inaugural entry (a day late, yes, but I plan to proffer another entry this evening), I want to draw your attention to two exemplary tales: Joe Hill's "You Will Hear the Locust Sing," and Matt Reeves's Cloverfield (2008).
In the space of fewer than two decades, Joe Hill has gone from being one of the most intriguing of rising stars of fiction of the macabre. I remember reading 20th Century Ghosts after Paula Guran's glowing review and rushing to PS Publishing to purchase a copy. Within its covers were stories of vast range, from magic realism to suspense to outright horror. While I viewed "Best New Horror" as the standout, I admired "You Will Year the Locust Sing," an homage not only to Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis but also such great 1950s creature features as Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In it, a boy wakes one morning to find himself transformed in a giant locust, which alienates him from his fellow human beings but also liberates him. He rampages through the town where he lives, terrorizing his family and his classmates in an acid diarrhea-driven frenzy. Perhaps imperfect and too tied to standard nerd-revenge fantasies, it nonetheless sticks in the reader's mind in a similar fashion as Harlan Ellison's "Basilisk."
Like Hill's tale, director Matt Reeves's Cloverfield also is a homage, though the most pronounced one remains hidden. A found-footage picture about a group of young people in Manhattan who find themselves at the locus of an alien invasion, Cloverfield obviously takes cues from both The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Gojira (1954) in both approach and subject matter, though it maintains more control over its presentation than the indie classic and delivers a monster far more freaky than the classic kaiju. However, in structure it resembles Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), in which a tale of terror interrupts one of romance. (It adds an interesting element in that the found footage appears recorded over a tape made by a couple during happier times, adding a bit of pathos.) If it takes too seriously its self-absorbed twentysomethings, it at least gets right the confusion and terror one might feel during a general emergency. Sentimental, yes, but worthwhile.
Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. His work has appeared in The Horror Zine, Rayguns Over Texas!, Horror U.S.A.: Texas, Campfire Macabre, The Dread Machine, and Generation X-ed.
He lives in Central Texas.